The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Places: A witch’s Travel Guide
Benevento, Italy is known as the City of the Witches. In some circles, Benevento’s very name is synonymous with witchcraft.
Midway between Rome and Naples, Benevento is located in the Sabato Valley, a natural basin beneath Italy’s Apennine Mountains. In antiquity, Benevento was an important, significant city. The Romans named it Beneventum (literally “Good” or “Happy Event” but implying “Good Omen”) in 275 BCE following a military victory here, the first of several.
Benevento has been the capital of southern Lombardy and an enclave of the Papal State. It joined the Italian Republic in 1860. From its earliest history Benevento has been identified with witchcraft. Local legend suggests that not only did Benevento harbor a community of powerful witches, other witches traveled from far away to join in rituals and celebrations.
The “Walnut Witches” of Benevento allegedly conducted rituals and held their sabbats beneath a huge walnut tree near the town. Allegedly witches have gathered about the walnut trees of Benevento since that old time immemorial: one particular tree, however, the Walnut Tree of Benevento, was particularly ancient and allegedly always in full leaf. Its walnuts were auspiciously shaped and served as amulets. It was the largest tree in the valley and witches rendezvoused under it. Rituals dedicated to Diana, Nyx, and Proserpina were conducted in the darkness that resulted from the old tree’s deep shade.
Benevento allegedly remained a Pagan stronghold long after Christianity’s rise to power.
In 662 CE, St Barbato, a local Christian, converted the ruling Duke of Benevento to Christianity. Previously the Duke had been a Pagan and allegedly joined in rituals beneath the walnut tree himself.
Barbato convinced him to cut the witches’ tree down. Various stories recount what happened next: one version says a church was built on the site, another that the tree replanted itself and grew back so quickly that it was considered an omen and left alone. The most popular version of events says that the witches replanted the tree from one of its own nuts but in another secret location. Allegedly they danced around it during the witch-hunt era and dance around it still.
In Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches (see BOOKS: Grimoires), the name Benevento is synonymous with witches’ sabbat.
Folklorist Charles G. Leland, an authority on Italian witchcraft and compiler (or author) of Aradia, describes the Benevento witches as “good witches” renowned for healing the sick and providing for the poor.
According to the records of the Spanish Inquisition, Sicilian fairy-witches claimed to fly, at least in spirit, to witches’ sabbats held under the walnut tree of Benevento.
The witches’ liqueur Strega was invented here. The label features a picture of Benevento’s dancing Walnut Witches.